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The Huge Almighty Mega Bulk Cook Session

2011 January 8
by Pamela

Five years ago (geesh where has the time gone?) when I was about to give birth to Mary Claire and still working full-time, I decided to give one of those meal preparation places a shot.  I used Dream Dinners.  Basically the premise is this:  you pre-order meals you want to make, show up at your designated time, mess up a kitchen other than your own and semi-prepare meals that go into your freezer to be cooked later.

I had heard of people doing this at home, but they were clearly SuperWOMEN and I was not.  Doing the session at Dream Dinners made me realize that it was not totally out of my league though.  So later on Bob and I joined forces with our friends the Heims to try another bulk cook session at home, this time using beans as a protein.

It was kind of a disaster.  For one thing, I developed this horrible aversion to chopping onions which remains with me until this day.  Chopping 10 lbs. of onions will do that to you.  We didn’t really love the recipes we made (they were all new to us) and we didn’t give ourselves enough time or childcare to do it well. 

But when I was pregnant with Elizabeth and about to quit working, I knew we couldn’t afford to do Dream Dinners again.  So I looked at many books at the library on bulk cooking to try and figure out what would freeze well and made up a menu.  I did the session 7 months pregnant over the course of two days and ended up with 42 meals. 

Fast forward to this birth and I decided to go for it once again.  We bought 38 lbs. of top ground sirloin from Cattlemans and I picked out recipes, went grocery shopping, and made arrangements for the girls to stay at my parent’s house overnight.

Our menu consisted of all gluten-free weight watcher meals:

3 pans of lasagna

3 meals’ worth of shepherd’s pie filling

3 dinners of chili

3 dinners of taco meat and beans

2 dinners of mini-meatloaves, plus another 10 individually wrapped for Bob’s firehouse meals

3 macaroni and beef casseroles

12 lbs. of ground sirloin cooked with onion and packaged in 1 lb. bags for future use.

Since each of the meals serves 6, we will be able to eat them twice.  Which gives us….. drumroll please…. 34 meals and the meat for another 12. 

Can you tell I’m pretty excited to have a full freezer?  I can’t imagine doing this on a regular basis, but for certain seasons of our lives it is worth it to me.  You know, seasons like I’m-a-lactating-zombie-who-will-stuff-anything-into-my-mouth-I’m-so-tired-and-hungry.

These are some things I’ve learned about bulk cooking, mostly the hard way:

It is helpful to choose one protein and stick with it.

Having a food saver is a must.  We own one now and borrowed one in the past.  The meals stay good FOREVER.

Pick only meals you really, really like.  I know that sounds obvious, but there were some things I picked in the past based on ease of preparation rather than LOVE.  But when you are standing in front of the freezer 6 months from now, you won’t remember or care that the Layered Tortilla Bake was so easy to prepare, only that it tastes like yuck.  And you have four yuck-filled casseroles to enjoy.

Cheat.  I bought pre-chopped onions, a huge bag’s worth, from GFS.  And chopped garlic.  And pre-made spice packets for the chili.  You will already feel like Martha Stewart when you are done, so cut corners as much as you can afford and are comfortable doing nutrition-wise.

Posting my recipes somewhere easily seen helps.  A lot.  Having the trash can open, close, and empty helps a lot too.

Get rid of your kids.  And maybe your husband.  Mine was super helpful so I kept him around.

Give yourself time to plan.  I picked meals one day, made a grocery list another, grocery shopped, had all the spices and cans of beans and tomatoes out the night before.

When doing a Huge Almighty Mega Bulk Cook Session, you need Huge Almighty Mega frying pans and bowls.  If you don’t have any, it’s worth borrowing them.  I also bought disposable 13×9 pans for the lasagna.  Everything else went into food saver bags.

Give yourself time to cook and package.  I did this over two days.  On night one I browned all the sirloin and onion, made the chili and the mini-meatloaves, then packaged everything (with Bob’s help) and cleaned the kitchen.  That took three hours.

I used these huge frying pans for the meat and did 6 rounds’ worth of cooking it and transferring it to a HUGE bowl.

I really, really like cooking the meat beforehand.  It gives it a night to cool off which means that I’m not burning myself on top of the other mess I’m making.

All in all, this little endeavor took 6 hours of cook time, though trust me, I was not out to win any awards for speediness.  I took lots of breaks and had literally no distractions, no errands to run, and no one over.  I didn’t even answer the phone or check Facebook (miracle!).

Want to see my freezer again?  Everytime I go downstairs I visit it.  And maybe I beat my chest a little, caveman-like.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    January 9, 2011

    Gosh, and I compalin about having to cook ‘one’ dinner at a time!

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 9, 2011

      It’s funny to me that cooking for six hours straight IN COMPLETE SILENCE was relaxing in comparison to breaking up fights with the girls all day.

  2. Chris permalink
    January 9, 2011

    oops, I mean complain

  3. January 9, 2011

    yay! i know what an accomplishment this is. thank you for your encouragement to do this when we were expecting analiese. on top of the meals we received from people at church, it was SO incredibly helpful to have a freezer full of homemade meals. funny…the MOPS speaker on friday talked about once a month bulk cooking and got me super inspired to try it out. i haven’t gotten myself organized yet to think about it, but i’m hoping to do some research on meals to find a few i think we’ll like…i mean LOVE. :) good job, mama-to-be-of-three!

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 9, 2011

      Well hopefully you can try out some things you already make and love. But I can give you recipes for all the stuff I made and you could try it with turkey.

  4. Paige Lloyd permalink
    January 24, 2011

    Pamela – I’m so glad you gave it a try! I have done it several times and I agree with you 100% on your suggestions! Especially about only using recipes you already know you love – that’s probably the #1 suggestion I’d give to anyone! I have heard about buying frozen chopped onions (chopping onions is my least favorite part of big cooking sessions), but couldn’t find them at Meijer – now I know to check out GFS! And I was wondering about a FoodSaver, nice to know they are worth it.

    I have never even thought of just sticking to one protein – wow, my head is going to explode with the possible ramifications of that wonderful idea! : ) The problem is, my family and I do NOT want to be eating just ground-beef-based meals (or just chicken-based meals) for the next month. So maybe what I need to do, is to stagger the meal prep. So when I already have a nice assortment of meals in the freezer already, I could plan a big cooking afternoon of all ground-beef meals, then a couple weeks later do it w/all chicken meals, then a couple weeks later, do some vegetarian meals & breakfasts…hmmmm…need to work on this idea, it really has potential! : ) Thanks!

    • Pamela permalink*
      January 25, 2011

      I know Paige, we feel the same way about the idea of eating ground beef for 6 weeks. Can you imagine our cholesterol? I usually cook 1-2 times a week using another protein and then pull a meal out of the freezer.
      What I would like to do is get some more vegetarian meals onto our table. Ideas?
      And you know what I was thinking today? It would be so helpful to pre-chop carrots, celery, and onion along with shredded chicken so I could quickly prepare a pot of chicken soup for someone. I am wondering if I could just throw everything together in a pre-portioned foodsaver. What do you think? I have so many questions since I haven’t done this much – I’m so glad to know you have!

  5. Paige Lloyd permalink
    January 26, 2011

    Last time I did a cooking session, I did make chicken noodle soup, and ended up w/extra celery & onion, so I chopped them up for use next time, and it worked great!! I don’t know that I would prepare the chicken in advance though. The way I make it is to boil the veggies, herbs, water, some buillion, and the chicken breast on the bone (and a frozen leftover chicken carcass if I have one), to make the stock. If I made the chicken ahead of time, I feel like I would be missing out on the extra flavor the chicken imparts to the soup when it cooks w/the bones in the soup. And I don’t know how carrots would do frozen since I’ve never tried that. But I think I’ll try it next time. I’ll just chop up enough carrots, onion & celery for a big pot of soup, and freeze half of the soup once it’s prepared. Or better yet, just chop up the celery & carrots, and stick to the pre-cut frozen onions (just go ahead and measure out the right amount and put all 3 items in a bag together to make it even quicker). I find fresh parsley to be an important ingredient to making the best soup, and have been disappointed with the result when I’ve had to use dried. It’s the one ingredient that I don’t have on-hand to make soup anytime I want. I wonder, can fresh herbs be frozen? How would one do that? And would they retain some of their fresh flavor, or just go all bland like dried herbs?

  6. Paige Lloyd permalink
    January 26, 2011

    And when you find some good veggie main-dish options, please share! My husband is a meat-lover, but I would like us to have all-veggie meals maybe once a week, but have no experience w/that, and want some really good ones so he won’t miss the meat too much!

    Oh, and you probably know this already, but I recently discovered that the Dollar Store has those foil lasagna pans, 2/$1! That’s much cheaper than what i used to pay for them at the grocery store! : )

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